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Emperor of the North (1973)

Emperor of the North Pole (original title)
In 1933, during the Depression, Shack the brutal conductor of the number 19 train has a personal vendetta against the best train hopping hobo tramp in the Northwest, A No. 1.


Robert Aldrich

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Lee Marvin ... A No. 1
Ernest Borgnine ... Shack
Keith Carradine ... Cigaret
Charles Tyner ... Cracker
Malcolm Atterbury ... Hogger
Simon Oakland ... Policeman
Harry Caesar ... Coaly
Hal Baylor ... Yardman's Helper
Matt Clark ... Yardlet
Elisha Cook Jr. ... Gray Cat (as Elisha Cook)
Joe Di Reda Joe Di Reda ... Dinger (as Joe di Reda)
Liam Dunn ... Smile
Diane Dye Diane Dye ... Girl in Water
Robert Foulk ... Conductor
Jim Goodwin Jim Goodwin ... Fakir (as James Goodwin)


It is during the great depression in the US, and the land is full of people who are now homeless. Those people, commonly called "hobos", are truly hated by Shack (Borgnine), a sadistical railway conductor who swore that no hobo will ride his train for free. Well, no-one but "A" Number One (Lee Marvin), who is ready to put his life at stake to become a local legend - as the first person who survived the trip on Shack's notorious train. Written by Brian Peterson calyooper@email.com

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Only one man can be ... "Emperor of the North Pole" See more »


PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

24 May 1973 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Emperor of the North See more »

Filming Locations:

Buxton, Oregon, USA See more »


Box Office


$3,705,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


| (FMC Library Print)

Sound Mix:

Mono (Westrex Recording System)



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The film cast includes three Oscar winners: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Keith Carradine. See more »


When the passenger train reaches Salem, the station is shown to be a small wooden building located in what appears to be a rail yard. This was in fact the depot for the Oregon Pacific and Eastern Railroad in Cottage Grove, OR. The actual Salem train station is a fairly large masonry structure built in 1918, located near the city center. See more »


Shack: There's only one 'bo that's got the stuff to try me, and you ain't even on the list.
See more »

Alternate Versions

The original UK cinema version was cut by the BBFC for a 'AA' (15) certificate with edits to blows with an axe and a wooden plank, and chain throttling during the fight between A No 1 and Shack. Later releases restored the footage but were cut by 3 secs to completely remove a shot of 2 men being hit with a live chicken during a fight scene. See more »


Referenced in Escape from New York (1981) See more »


A Man and a Train
Lyrics by Hal David
Music by Frank De Vol
Sung by Marty Robbins
See more »

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User Reviews

Riding the Rails
12 September 2003 | by rmax304823See all my reviews

This is the kind of story that Tom Wolfe might have written. It's about what he would have called a "status-sphere" and ordinary sociologists would have called a subculture. It's about competition within a limited environment, about acquiring status, about working your way up the ladder of prestige within a particular specialized structure by means of courage, skill, and strategy. Only instead of the wild blue yonder, or landing on the heaving deck of an aircraft carrier, or NASCAR racing, the thing to be conquered here is Ernest Borgnine, the sadistic conductor who chuckles as he throws hobos off his train, sometimes to their deaths, kind of redoing his Fatso Judson number, so evil that if he did not exist it would be necessary to prevent him.

It's a classical subculture in that it has all the features of a closed world with its own values. Everyone seems to know everyone else. And, as in most subcultures, including those that used to be called "primitive societies," the initiate is given a new name. In other movies exploring such subcultures they may have names like "Fast Eddy," "Minnesota Fats," "Maverick," "Dragstrip," "Charlie the Gent." Here they have names like "A Number 1" (Lee Marvin), "Cigaret" (Keith Carradine), and "Shack" (Borgnine). They even had their own written language, a set of pictographs scratched into rocks or written in dirt, conveying messages like, "This family good for a free meal," or , "Work for a meal," or, "Stay away. Cops." There were small communities of hobos, often carved out of track-side garbage dumps.

Interesting cast, by the way, a lot of familiar faces in bit parts -- Simon Oakland, Elija Cook Jr.

Makeup and Wardrobe Departments have done a fine job of turning them into 'Bos. They don't look Hollywood dirty, with a few smears of mud. They just look dirty. Their clothing is filthy. All in all, a good delousing looks called for. Marvin's face, by the time this was released, looked just beat-up enough, and from life, not booze. And check out his decaying lower incisors.

The plot has to do with a duel of wits between Marvin, who is determined to demonstrate his skill at the top of the status ziggurat by riding Borgnine's train to Porland, OR. Borgnine, much to the puzzlement of the rest of the train crew, is obsessed with keeping his freight train clean of hitch-hikers. He's fiendishly clever in smoking out and hurting riders. Carradine is the kind of youth often called "callow." He brags a lot and is brave but, alas, is unable to absorb the rules of the game because he plays for reasons of self aggrandizement, not for the team. He winds up in the drink.

There's something else about this movie that may keep a viewer interested. It takes place during the depression. The trains are slow, fed by coal, and powered by steam. They rock back and forth gently, as if trying to put a passenger or a stowaway to sleep. And they travel through a sunny evergreen wilderness in the Northwest. It's the kind of scenic journey you now have to pay for if you want to make a round trip to San Juan, CO. What was in the 1930s essential to a certain kind of existence has now been vulgarized and turned into a tourist's delight.

It's a small story about small people. There is nothing epic about it. The score seems to owe something to Burt Bacharach, who was so successful a few years earlier with "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." And, for my taste, there are one or two too many choker close-ups filling the screen with monstrous teeth and sweaty flesh. But it's hard to ignore the movie. You'll probably want to find out what happens next.

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